Are you experienced?

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Engagement-based marketing is all the rage. Forrester Research, Gartner, and JupiteResearch have all published major commentary on engagement in the past 12 months. Agencies like my employer Avenue A | Razorfish are talking about the importance of building brands through experiences that engage consumers, online and offline. David Polinchock of the Brand Experience Lab publishes a popular blog, The Experience Economist. In reality, marketers have been pursuing the holy grail of engagement since Starbucks proved that you could charge a premium rate for a cup of coffee if you provided a memorable experience (probably even before that). So why all the talk now – and why will agencies like mine continue to talk about engaging experiences? I can think of three reasons:

  • We live at a time where consumers suffer from a massive case of ADD. We skim content briefly all over the digital world, snacking on small morsels of information and entertainment from digital video, blogs, websites, and portals. And we’re distracted – we’re answering emails on our laptops while we talk on our PDAs and watch interactive videos online. How can even the most smartly crafted 30-second message reach us anymore? So ironically marketers are going in the opposite direction by creating entertaining and fun destinations where we won’t mind spending time with their brands. And they’re asking for help from agencies like Avenue A | Razorfish

  • Marketers are responding to a cluttered environment of their own making. Consumers face a bewildering set of purchase choices now – what Barry Schwartz calls “an overwhelming abundance of choice” in his book The Paradox of Choice. Marketers are under pressure to find a more compelling way to rise beyond the clutter, which is where memorable experiences come into play. More products, more messages, and more services are not the answer. Experiential marketing just might be.

  • In the digital world, broadband adoption continues to increase, which means more consumers can realistically expect the interactive experience that digital promises. Gartner announced July 24 that in five countries, broadband penetration of consumer households has exceeded 60 percent, and worldwide consumer broadband adoption will grow from 323 million connections in 2007 to 499 million by 2012. As more offline agencies embrace digital, and as more companies really start to figure out digital, you’ll see even more discussion about engaging broadband-enabled consumers.

Maybe we need a different way to talk about experiential marketing, but I do know that “engagement” is more than a buzzword as I look at our client work and the direction of Avenue A | Razorfish.

Client work

Sometimes a client uses rich media to create an experience. Sometimes the client acts as host for a social media experience among consumers. Either way, the client builds its brand through an experience, not by plastering messages on banner ads. Last month, for instance, I blogged about the Best Buy Summer Hub, which employs rich media, snappy graphics, and a related Facebook application (the Digital Trip Journal) to help consumers learn how consumer electronics devices can make summer more fun.

The Summer Hub helps to make the Best Buy brand stand for valuable advice and a fun lifestyle. The difference is that Best Buy doesn’t tell you. It wants to convince you through a digital experience.

Meantime, in France, Nike ACG worked with our Paris office (known locally as Duke) to launch the Sweetspots website. Nike ACG specializes in outdoor gear. Instead of simply displaying its inventory, Nike ACG lets you experience its products in action through crisply produced videos that depict Nike ACG-sponsored athletes doing everything from kayaking to climbing mountains. In one scene, a kayaker crashes through the Bujagali Falls of Uganda, while in Slovakia, skiers tackle Lomnicky Peak. As related in the enclosed presentation (which you are free to use publicly), Sweetspots has a social media component, too. Using a “submit your sweetspot” tab, any athlete can submit a sweetspot he or she has achieved personally (defined as the moment when effort and talent converge). The winning user-generated videos will be unveiled later this year. Moreover, for people who want to participate in a sweetspot even if they are not athletes, Nike ACG sponsored a contest on Facebook where you can compete for the chance to join a team filming a sweetspot in Patagonia. The winning team will be announced soon.

The number of unique visitors per month has quadrupled over a pervious version of the website. The 200,000 monthly unique visitors spend about 5 minutes per visit. The website was also a finalist for a Cannes Cyber Lion award.

Avenue A | Razorfish direction

At the Avenue A | Razorfish Client Summit on May 14, our CEO Clark Kokich identified experiential marketing as one of the two or three major trends affecting our agency’s direction. The Client Summit is an annual gathering of about 1,000 clients and Avenue A | Razorfish account executives from around the world. Through case studies, panels, and keynotes, we assess our mutual journey through the digital world. At this year’s Client Summit, Clark revealed how we’re changing to be more of a builder of consumer experiences instead of designer of websites or digital ads – experiences that connect with people emotionally and leave impact. You can see Clark’s presentation here: (See “opening session – welcome” by Clark Kokich.)

We’re also making experience-based marketing a part of our operations. For example, in the U.S. Central region, Avenue A | Razorfish is changing our approach to client account planning and delivery. As regional president Dave Friedman told me, “Usually account planning for an agency is about defining a message for your client. The message is still important, but we’re also now asking, What experience do we want to create for the client? So we’re replacing account planning teams with experience planning groups that cut across marketing, strategy, technology, and user experience.”

Dave went on to tell me that in his region, we’ve also created a new team called “Experience & Platforms,” headed by a general manager who is charged with figuring out how to assemble the right talent to design and deliver captivating experiences that span the worlds of digital advertising and website design.

“We’re moving from a campaign mentality to a relationship mentality,” Dave told me. “Experiences are longer lasting than campaigns. The Postopia gaming site we built for Post Cereals is an experience that builds a brand over a long period of time, not a one-time campaign.”

You also see experiential marketing in many other places, even a more transaction-oriented site like Breville.

How are you talking about experience-based marketing? Where are you finding it work well and not so well?

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